All Coming Undone
By Luke Kokoszka
From her loving boyfriend: a dog. The pug was small and high maintenance, an intentional choice on Logan’s part. He thought such a dog might symbolize a baby. The woman from the ad said on the phone, Bitch had a litter. Pick any of them. All the same price.
Logan didn't care which dog he went home with. They all seemed like a lot of work. He'd driven two hours north, out of Vancouver and into the country, to find these breeders. He lied about where he lived, and he lied about who the dog was for. The couple didn't care, and didn’t ask. Logan was hit first by the woman’s stench. Then he noticed the milky stains on her husband’s sweat pants. Their basement smelled like dark yellow piss. The mother of the litter was sprawled out on some filthy heap in the corner, like the couple had dosed her with opioids. And maybe they had. There were unlabelled boxes piled all over the place, a treadmill covered in dust in the corner. The puppies flung themselves at each other on the grimy floor, at Logan’s feet, begging him for something beyond their understanding. The breeders wanted money, and for that reason Logan never told his girlfriend the conditions the dog had been living in. Sierra would not have approved.
Logan opened the door to Sierra’s small rancher in Grandview-Woodlands, half a block from Templeton Secondary School, and placed the little pug on her couch. Sierra was off work soon. Logan hid and waited. He watched the clock on his phone like a man waiting to depart out of a terrible country. When Logan finally saw her walking slowly towards the front door, peeking through the curtains in their bedroom, she was late by a half hour. He moved to the hall, still out of sight, and saw the dog was asleep on the couch, snoring and coughing periodically from air trapped in its throat, curled into itself as dogs do, a large red bow attached to its collar.
Hearing the lock, Logan stayed in the hallway where he could watch Sierra’s face as she first saw the dog. This is something he never forgot, the look on her face, even long after the fact, long after they had left one another, the expression she made when her eyes met the eyes of the dog. Her whole face was joyful. He understood he’d never seen her like that, not in their happiest moments. Not even close. She placed a hand over her open mouth. Dropped her purse to the floor. The pug rustled, oblivious to the commotion. She spoke Logan’s name and he went to her.
They decided to be exclusive soon after, and, while each pretended they hadn’t been already, they smiled into one another’s eyes, feeling love previously unknown to them, aspirational love.
He’s not like the rest of them, Mom. He makes me dinner. He makes the bed. He leaves notes in the mornings with silly faces. Maybe I found a good one. I know I found a good one. I think he’d make a great father. Well, why not?
Logan was listening to Sierra on the phone with her mom from the other room, but it went silent. He walked a little down the hall closer to the room Sierra was in to hear their conversation better. He wondered what her mom was saying. Something cautionary. It wouldn’t be like what his dad had told him all those years back—there are girls you fuck and girls you marry. Don’t get confused.
Sierra spoke after the long silence, Don’t worry, she said. I won’t end up with someone like Dad.
I don’t know what to call him, she said. He’s so soft, like silk. He’s so handsome. She petted the dog’s head gently as if he was a Fabergé egg. Logan admired her movements, her gentleness, the meticulous control of her hand. I love seeing you happy, he told her. I love you, she said.
It was convenient she worked short shifts. Four, five hours tops, at a coffee shop where the underpaid employees’ friends drank the overpriced coffee they served for free. The dog was left alone during this time. Sierra’s house was small, and the dog too, and he roamed around looking at the same things twice, three times without recognizing them as familiar. Sierra thought this was cute, as she said to Logan one night in bed, the dog curled up at their feet. He can’t seem to get bored, she said. You just wait, Logan said. He’ll get bored and then he’ll start chewing up the furniture. She looked at him, incredulous.
My god, he heard Sierra saying from the living room. He could hear her turning up the volume on the TV. Then he heard it, puppy mill.
“One of the largest puppy mill seizures in the province’s history took place today,” a woman in a blood-red pantsuit spoke into the microphone.
The broadcast cut to footage of the basement Logan was in only weeks ago. He didn’t remember it being that filthy, as if somebody had added more garbage, turds, soiled blankets, and dogs into the footage. He noticed the pugs first, the ones that hadn’t been chosen, the ones whose faces didn’t pan out as well as the rest, victims to inbreeding or, undoubtedly, neglect. Then he saw the other dogs, the ones he didn’t choose, the ones that were too big to start, not as needy, not as time consuming. He glanced over at Sierra, who looked mortified.
Poor animals, she said.
“A husband and wife have been charged with twenty-two counts of animal cruelty.”
Then their faces: the man in the stained sweatpants, the snarling, stinking wife.
What kind of monster could run something like that? she asked, turning down the newscast. She looked over at Logan. How would I know? he said. I mean at least they aren’t just letting them die. Sierra stood dumbfounded. She said, What the fuck does that mean?
As its initial excitement wore thin, the dog grew bored of its surroundings and its owner. Sierra would cease to race home after work, preferring instead to stick around the shop and have coffee with a friend, or to flip through records at Spinning Circles, the new shop down the street from her house. It wasn’t until later, a month perhaps, that Logan had the day off and made it to her house before she did. As he opened the door and stepped inside, the odour of shit permeated his nose. Next, the puddle of urine. He was angry, and disappointed, but he knew what he was doing giving this dog to Sierra.
As he suspected would happen—yet hadn’t wanted to acknowledge—these incidents became more frequent. The carpet of her home was riddled with stains, little failures she did her best to hide. He would see them like a black dot in his peripheral vision. On a Friday evening, when they had plans to go out, when he sat down on the chair opposite her couch, he noticed chew marks in the skirt of the couch. What are those, he asked, knowing the answer already. She walked into the living room, pulled her face from her phone and looked to what he was pointing at. Looks like he chewed the couch, she said.
As they lay in bed after returning home, spooning each other after empty sex, he asked her something that had been bothering him. Why haven’t you named the dog yet? It had been over two months. She had a new name every day—Deano, Baba, Malcolm, Gnomey. I don’t know, she said. Nothing sticks, I guess.
Logan had a list he kept in his wallet. He looked at it as he waited for Sierra to come home. This list he kept, whose original and not at all inconspicuous title was dog, was infinitely more important to his future than the one he kept on the fridge reminding him of groceries he needed to buy. Looking at this list he felt looming dread. One side, “CONS,” was weighed down with instances of Sierra’s failure to properly attend to the animal—doesn’t take dog out to pee—doesn’t take dog out for walks—vaccinations?—water bowl empty—no training—increasingly little affection. The “PROS” side half-heartedly held words such as loving, petting, etc.—words that didn’t really matter, words that had no solidity, and at this point were distant realities. He put the list back in his wallet and went to the kitchen to mix himself a rye and ginger. When the buzzer sounded, he’d already finished his second drink.
That night she brought up the news that her friend Dee was pregnant. I’m so happy for her, she said. She’s going to make a wonderful mom. Logan, four drinks in now, his tongue loose, let out a sarcastic noise. It was a noise she was familiar with. A noise everybody who knew this man was familiar with. You don’t agree? she asked. He tried to be careful with his words but the alcohol wouldn’t allow it. She drinks like a fucking sailor, he said. And her boyfriend is a drug dealer. You think that’s a good environment for a child?
How can you say that? she asked. Dee is the most caring person I know. And sure, okay, Brady might not be the nine to five type, but he is a good guy.
Brady didn’t pull out, he said.
Sierra lifted herself off the couch where they were watching a sitcom on TV and went to the bedroom where her purse was, grabbed it, and walked out the door.
He called her three times the next day before she answered. What? she said angrily into the phone. He was sorry for upsetting her, but he wasn’t sorry for speaking his mind. I should have been more careful with my words, he said.
What are you saying? she said, angrier now. You’re not sorry at all. You’re just saying sorry so you can forget about it. That’s not going to happen. I didn’t realize you thought so little of my friends.
He was unsure what to say next. He did in fact like her friends, but this business with the pug was driving him insane. The silence stretched across the distance of the telephone call. We’ll talk about this later, she said, and hung up.
She was sitting on the couch with the pug curled up next to her when he arrived. The skirt of the couch had been torn to shreds and small pieces of the fibrous material were stuck in the carpet. She neglected to look at him as he walked in the front door, choosing instead to continue watching the sitcom playing on TV. When his shoes were off, he walked over and sat down next to her, gave her a kiss, and said he was sorry. He said again, I am sorry.
I don’t care, she answered. You are a dick. Sometimes I forget that. He nodded. She continued: I don’t think you want to have a family with me, ever. The pug got up, stretched, and jumped off the couch. Logan was beginning to feel like a sociopath, like a monster parading as a decent human being, like the man he never wished to become.
Have you named the dog yet? he asked.
Don’t change the subject, she said. Could you ever have a family with me?
Why haven’t you named the dog? he asked. How do you expect to talk about a child when you can’t even name a fucking dog?
You don’t think I’ll make a good mother because I didn’t name the dog? What's wrong with you?
He disembarked that night with the clothing he kept at her house in a garbage bag. The pug was pawing at his ankles, wanting to be picked up.
Luke Kokoszka lives in New Westminster, British Columbia, with his cat, Mr. B. His fiction has appeared in The Fanzine, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, carte blanche, Cheap Pop, and elsewhere. He is a co-editor of Pandemic Publications and a prose reader at PRISM International. He can be found on twitter at @lukekokoszka.